I. Highgate to Archway
They had both been villages once, glowering at each other across from their low hilltops over a green valley where sheep wandered in pastoral boredom. It's not quite clear whether aristocratic Highgate came first, and the other village chose its name in plebeian defiance, or Crouch End was the older, and its neighbour had later tried to inject a touch of haughty distinction into the area.
Certainly there doesn't appear to be anything especially crouching about the place now, with its defiantly cheerful Victorian ugliness. The Crouch Enders no doubt know the reason for the name; but the Crouch Enders are taciturn and truculent and have wide, haunted eyes, so in general it's probably best not to ask.
There are dark rumours about creeping things in the underpasses, and the local newspapers too often report Underground horrors.
Richard stayed on the Highgate side as he walked down the Great North Road, though even there he could feel an odd prickling down the back of his neck. It made him think of smoky tentacles in the darkness, and Hunter's bright, wild eyes. So he stopped off at a pub on Highgate Hill, which had rushes on the floor and a few guttering oil-lamps amidst the fluorescent strip-lights, and sold suspicious-tasting beer in glass tankards. A couple of well-meaning fellow-drinkers had assured Richard very seriously that he had to be sworn in as Freeman of Highgate before he could buy a drink. He was halfway through explaining, with some embarrassment, that he had been the Greatest Hunter In London Below for some years now and he wasn't likely to fall for that one (again) when the Marquis arrived.
"You're still alive, I see," said the Marquis as he slipped into the chair next to Richard's.
"So are you," said Richard. "Had any good deaths since I saw you last?"
"Not recently," said the Marquis, smiling brightly at the publican, who was polishing a glass meaningfully in his direction. He produced a very battered and tarnished silver hip-flask from one of his innumerable pockets, and poured a measure of something that smelled of heather and mint-leaves into the cap. He toasted the publican with it.
"So what have I done to merit the welcoming committee?" Richard asked.
"Oh, I happened to be passing through," said de Carabas. "I had business with the Gate Keeper."
Richard waited for an elaboration. The Marquis sipped his drink. "I'm glad you're as open and communicative as ever," said Richard. He took a mouthful of his pint and tried not to taste it. "In case you were wondering, I've been travelling."
"You acted on behalf of Victoria of the Seven Sisters in the matter of her access to the Holy Well of Oxford. After lodging for a few days with the Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, you sent a very interesting report to the Earl on the state of his ally's defences. You visited the deep catacombs of Rome. Some say that you fought with a great she-wolf on the Capitoline, though I must confess that I have my doubts on that score."
"You've been following what I've been doing?" asked Richard, disbelieving. "I didn't know you cared."
The Marquis smiled a smile which said very clearly that he didn't. "You seem to be becoming something of a celebrity."
Richard shifted, awkwardly. He could feel the weight of Hunter's knife at his belt. "I don't know how the wolf story got started."
"How are things in London?" asked Richard.
The Marquis sipped his drink again. "I take it you've only just returned?"
Richard shrugged. "I've come in down the North Road. I asked at Whetstone, but they haven't had any news since the stage-coaches last stopped there."
"Then you'll presumably find out how things are in London when you get there, won't you?"
Richard didn't need to count to ten to keep from snapping. He'd had enough infuriating conversations with the Marquis that he now kept a constant count of ten ticking along in the back of his mind the whole time.
"Are you still acting for Door?"
"Regretfully, the Lady Door and I have parted company," said the Marquis blandly.
"Can you tell me where I could find her?"
"As a favour?"
Richard snorted. "I think I know better than that. It doesn't matter. If I don't find out from you, I can find out from someone else."
"Of course. Everyone knows the Lady Door these days." The Marquis finished his drink, and the flask vanished into some mysterious pocket. He stood up in a swirl of coat-tails. "Best of luck with that."
"Hey - wait!" called Richard. He abandoned the last inch of suspicious beer and hurried outside. The air was cold as a blow, and from somewhere in the city below church bells were ringing out, the sound floating up in the stillness over the noise of traffic. Richard found the old rhyme running through his head -
Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's
You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St Martin's -
The Marquis was waiting impatiently. Richard jammed his hands deep into his coat pockets and shifted his bag more securely on his shoulder. "Look, what did you mean?"
"Mean by what?"
"'Everyone knows the Lady Door,'" mimicked Richard as best he could, which wasn't very. "Of course they do. The last I head, she'd brokered a treaty between Olympia and the Raven's Court, and finally convinced the disciples of the Lyceum not to pillage St Martin's fields every time they had a disagreement with the Academy. She's one of the most important people in London Below."
"Then you certainly shouldn't have any difficulty in finding her, should you?"
"Look, I've been away for - a while," said Richard, because he wasn't entirely sure how long he'd been away for. He'd been to several places where time didn't seem to travel in quite the ways he was expecting, and he had noticed - again, some indeterminate time ago - that he didn't seem to be aging at quite the normal speed. "Has something changed?"
De Carabas sighed in a way that reminded Richard very strongly of one of his old maths teachers, after the third time that young Dick Mayhew had asked him to explain just why x equalled two. "I really have better things to do with my time than simply repeat myself for your benefit."
"Oh, don't let me take up any more of your precious seconds," said Richard. "Tell me when the next market is, and I'll pick up what I need to know there."
For a second, Richard could almost believe that something flickered in the Marquis' eyes. But the Marquis' eyes were only pale patches in the dusk, and it was almost impossible to tell. "There isn't a market this week."
"Then when's the next one after that?"
For some reason, it seemed to take a surprising amount of effort for the Marquis to speak. "I don't know."
"I thought you knew everything?"
The Marquis turned away, his coat setting up a rustle of dry leaves.
"Look, you have to tell me," said Richard, following him down towards the Archway Road. "I thought that was - you know, in the rules."
"How fascinating. You must send me a copy, I don't believe I've seen them."
Richard walked after him, silent and resentful.
"I have some errands to run," said the Marquis as they emerged onto the main road. The four lanes of traffic were slowed to a crawl, and the Marquis picked his way between them, neat as a cat. Richard followed, scurrying from gap to gap and bumper to bumper. "You have certain skills - more than anyone in their right mind would expect to look at you. I could perhaps be persuaded to trade."
"Trade what?" said Richard, warily, as they reached the far side.
"Your presence and co-operation for my knowledge and guidance," said the Marquis.
"And what would I have to co-operate with, exactly?"
The Marquis smiled the smile of a respectable old family general practitioner assuring an anxious husband that the operation has been a complete success. "Nothing that would not be commensurate with the value of the information offered in exchange."
Richard rolled his eyes. It was tempting just to turn his back and let de Carabas unravel whatever plot he'd tangled himself in by himself.
But he didn't understand how there could be no market for so long. And he didn't understand why the Marquis should be so nonchalantly eager for his company. And he didn't know why it should seem so odd that the Marquis refused to talk about Door. And something else too, uncomfortable and shifting in the back of his mind, something like coming back to your home town to find that you didn't recognise half the buildings and the roads had all shifted around.
The elegant span of Archway Bridge gleamed dull red and green and gold in the sodium glare of streetlights. When Richard had first moved to London he had rented a tiny flat not far away, and soon found that all the locals called it Suicide Bridge. Whenever he had to walk across it, he'd made a point of walking on the roadward side of the pavement, as far from the parapet as possible, and keeping his eyes firmly turned away from the seductive tug of the fall.
The bells were still ringing out below. The Marquis turned just before they walked under the bridge's shadow.
"Do we have a deal?" he said.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head -
Richard nodded reluctantly, and held out his hand. The Marquis' hands was warm and dry, and enfolded Richard's cold fingers.
Chip, chop, chip, chop, the last man's -
They stepped through the Arch.
II. Archway to King's Cross
The Bridge over Archway Road marks the boundary between Inner and Outer London. Someone who happened to, say, jump off the bridge, would depart from Haringey, and arrive in Islington some thirty or so feet directly below their starting point. Of course, the first bridge was only built in 1813; but just because there isn't a gate, it doesn't necessarily mean there isn't a gateway. The Gate Keeper and the Crouch Enders both know, in their different ways, that this is a place of entrances and exists, of potential, beginnings, and endings.
There are other Arches in London, both Above and Below. In the shadow of Marble Arch, they say, words can be spoken that would lead to a blow or a dagger in other places, and serfs and bondsmen can find sanctuary from their vengeful masters in its shelter. In Euston, where the concrete concourse now stretches, there was once a great gleaming portico, the city's gateway to the North. Now half the stone lines the bottom of the River Lea. It's a dangerous archway to pass through.
And then there's the Arch, of course.
Richard had never asked, and none of the inhabitants of London Below had ever explained. So he wasn't sure whether the Arch was some real structure of stone or wood or brick, still standing or long destroyed, or something else entirely.
One of the first things he found out when he entered the city Below was that doors don't always - don't often - lead to where you expect them to lead. And you could never be sure that the world you walked into on the far side of a gateway was the one you had left behind. So he tried not to feel any surprise when the air shifted and shivered around them as they passed beneath the bridge, and they were emerging from between Doric pillars that were glowing white in the moonlight, and the ugly frontage of Euston station was in front of them. He didn't even speak when he looked back, and saw nothing but modern buildings and trees.
He thought that the Marquis might have glanced at him, but he didn't turn his head to confirm it.
"Well? Are you coming?" The Marquis was holding open a low door, the door to a cupboard rather than a room, in one of the concrete walls. "Things to see, people to - "
"I know, I know," said Richard, dropping into a crouch to squeeze through the small opening. The tunnel on the other side was no wider, and when Richard shuffled forward and the door slammed shut behind him, he had to remind himself very firmly that fear of heights was quite enough by way of dangerously inconvenient phobias, and this really wasn't the time to add claustrophobia to the count. So he shut his eyes tightly, as that made it easier to ignore the absolute blackness, and groped forward with his hands. Sometimes they would move over things that were damp, or sticky, or on one occasion, warm. He crawled with grim determination.
"There's a drop coming up," said the Marquis, just as Richard's fingers encountered the edge.
"Is there a ladder?"
"There was last time I was here," said de Carabas, rather unhelpfully.
There was just space, if he skinned his chilled knuckles and cracked his head against the ceiling, to turn feet-first to the abyss. He felt around with his toes until they encountered what felt like a metal rung in the wall. He tested his weight against it, and it held. Slowly, not thinking about the drop into the ink-filled depths below, or the slickness of cold sweat on his palms, he climbed downwards.
He kept climbing until his feet hit bricks. Richard stood with his hands still grasping the last rungs, breathing deeply.
He felt the air brush his cheek as de Carabas dropped from ten feet above him and landed soft-footed and steady. There was the sound of a match striking, a blinding flare in the darkness, which dimmed into the soft light of an oil lamp as Richard's eyes adjusted.
"Where are we going, exactly?" he asked, his mouth dry.
"To the Court of the King's Cross."
Richard groped through his rather rusty knowledge of London geography. "Wouldn't it have been quicker to take the roof-path?"
"Quicker, perhaps, but far less entertaining," said the Marquis, glibly, as he strode away down the brick-lined passageway. It looked as though it might once have been a storm-drain, but the dried-up detritus of bird skeletons, crisp packets and Micro Machines showed that it hadn't seen much water in a while.
Richard followed the Marquis' circle of lamp-light.
III. King's Cross
Before St. George (a saint with minimal connections to England and none whatsoever to dragons) became patron of the country, many venerated Edward the Confessor, saint and king, as the country's protector and spiritual defender. His right to canonisation might have been mildly debatable, but his Englishness at any rate was above reproach.
At the Court of the King's Cross, there is a throne, carved in old, black wood. On the throne there is a cushion of purple so faded and threadbare that it hardly deserves the name. On the cushion rests a cross, thickly encrusted with dust, under which gleam smooth rubies and old gold.
Around the throne and the cushion and the cross are old men in robes that have been built up layer by layer as each coat of fine linen becomes bare and ragged. They await the day when their true king with his army of saints and martyrs and angels with flaming swords shall return in their hour of greatest need to overthrow the Norman invader. Until then, they guard and venerate his relics.
It was once pointed out to the King's Steward that such stories were more commonly told about King Arthur than King Edward. He had smiled, in his amiable old-man way, conceded the point, and then ordered one of the Men at Arms to do much the same to the importunate doubter as had once been done to Edward II.
The Marquis glanced down at the crossed pikes which barred his way onto the brick span of the bridge, etched in flickering torchlight.
The brick ceiling hung perhaps four feet from the highest point of the bridge. The guards had evidently been chosen for their small stature, and both stood upright with their stained helmets brushing the roof. Richard and the Marquis had to stoop.
He smiled. "Richard of Maybury, the Warrior and greatest Hunter of London Below, Slayer of the Great Beast, Wielder of the Knife, Vanquisher of the Fallen Angel Islington, and Freeman of the Underside. And his guest."
Richard could hear the capital letters slotting neatly into place. The guards were looking at him dubiously, and he tried to look warlike.
"You have to allow him to go freely, without let or hindrance," said the Marquis, helpfully.
"What business does he have over Battle Bridge?" said the shorter guard.
"He wishes audience with the Steward."
"Yes, I do," said Richard, who didn't really, but at least wanted to appear proactive.
The guards looked at each other sagely, and raised their pikes. There wasn't ceiling-space enough to hold them upright though, so the Marquis and Richard passed through a sort of guard-of-honour of pike-handles.
Richard looked down over the parapet at the sluggish grey-brown water below. "Is that the Fleet?"
"What a wonderful memory you have for details."
"I didn't know there were any of the Fleet bridges still standing."
And, because it was the Marquis, Richard didn't bother to question him any further.
Beyond the Bridge were narrow, gothic windows outlined in firelight, although Richard couldn't make out the actual wall they were set in. The path of packed earth and occasional mud led to a great wooden door, studded with dark nails set in the shape of a cross.
The Marquis tapped at the door far too quietly to be heard. It swung open regardless.
The Court didn't appear to have moved for a hundred years. Many had dust on their shoulders and laps. Some had spider webs strung between their heads and the ceiling, or walls, or pillars, or just draped across them like gothic antimacassars. All had long grey beards, and bright, watchful eyes.
The Marquis dropped into a bow so deeply respectful that it was almost mocking. "My Lord Steward."
"De Carabas," said the eldest and greyest of the men, his voice a creaking gate. "We have not seen you in our Court for fifty years."
"And yet you haven't aged a day."
The Steward's bright eyes flickered to Richard. "And is this the great Warrior."
Richard smiled, rather awkwardly. "Ah - yes. Hello."
"What is your business with the King's Court, Warrior?"
"Um - nothing, really - "
"My Lord of Maybury wishes only to present himself to my Lord Steward, to seek his favour, and to pay homage to the True King's Cross," interrupted the Marquis, smoothly. "And for food and shelter for the night."
The Steward looked at Richard with his brilliant black eyes.
"Is this so? You seek the favour of the King?"
"Um - yes," said Richard, a little lost.
"Is this your Champion, de Carabas?" asked the Steward, not moving his eyes by a millimetre.
The Marquis smiled. "Of a sort," he admitted.
Richard found the Steward's gaze distinctly unnerving. He didn't quite know whether to stare back.
"Let the decision be with our Lord."
There was a faint sighing and rustling, and the Court turned as one towards the great black throne with its cushion and its cross.
The Marquis was tapping his foot impatiently. The sound was ringingly intrusive in the long silence.
After a while, the Steward nodded, slowly. "He is a fool, but an honest fool. I believe the King will grant him his royal favour."
A faint sigh, like the wind through dead leaves.
Richard was growing rather tired of being called a fool. "Thanks," he said.
The Marquis bowed low. "Please relay my thanks to his gracious majesty."
"And you, de Carabas?" said the Steward. "Would you claim audience?"
"De Carabas the traitor," said a privy councillor.
"De Carabas the trickster," said the Exchequer.
"De Carabas the kingmaker," said the Master of the King's Horse.
"Now, I've never made a king," said the Marquis winningly. "Several minor nobles, a mayor of London, and at least one Lord Steward, yes."
"I owe you no favour, de Carabas," said the Steward.
"And I do not claim this as a favour, but as a right. My Lord of Maybury has the Freedom of the Underside, and that grants him the right of audience."
"In these dark days - "
"- the old rules must be observed more rigorously than ever."
Thre Steward's expression creaked into a frown. "Even if that were true, the right of speech extends to him, not to you."
"I speak on his behalf."
"Is this so?" said the Steward, looking at Richard.
"I - suppose so," Richard replied.
The Steward narrowed his hawk's eyes. "Let it be so, then. What have you to say, de Carabas?"
"My Lord Steward, the great Warrior is tired from his travels," said the Marquis. "I could not countenance any discussion until I have seen him victualled and rested."
"You do not think this is a matter on which your Champion should advise?"
The Marquis smiled again, fast and bright and charming. "Oh, his counsels and my own are as one on this matter. His rest and health are my first concern."
"Your courtesy does you credit, de Carabas," said the Steward, and turned his gaze to Richard again. "My Lord of Maybury. You will find our hospitality as warm as any in the Underside."
An ancient courtier, so covered with dust that Richard had taken him for a statue, lurched into life, and took Richard's bag as though he were a porter at an expensive hotel. Richard followed him through the echoing hall, feeling two dozen pairs of sharp eyes following his footsteps.
It was only when he had reached the doorway on the far side of the hall that he heard the Marquis begin to speak again.
"My Lord, I have come only to seek your support, for our mutual aid. I speak of the question of the Lord Mayor of London..."
The courtier led Richard up a steep, narrow staircase of creaking wood, and into a narrow, creaking room above. There was a table bearing rough bread with a crust of salt crystals, and a joint of unspecified meat, and a flagon of wine. There was also a pile of skins that might have been bear and might have been giant rat, and might have been just about anything in between. But they smelled of dust rather than anything worse, and there was a brazier of coals that the courtier wheezed into life again, and all in all Richard had slept in much worse places over the last few years.
He was wakened from his doze some time later by the Marquis coughing politely from the doorway. This was fortunate, as he'd gone to sleep with his hand on the knife-handle, and a more stealthy approach might have lead to some embarrassingly violent reflex reactions. He didn't trouble to open his eyes, recognising the Marquis by his footsteps and the sound of his coat and by a certain crackling energy in the air.
"I left you some food," he said. "It mainly tastes of dust. I suppose that might be for the best."
He heard the Marquis pacing.
"Did you manage to do whatever it was that you wanted to do to whoever it was you wanted to do it to?"
"The negotiations were moderately satisfactory," said the Marquis.
"Who's the Lord Mayor of London?" asked Richard. "I assume it's not the bloke with the gold chain and the coach who gets dragged out once a year for the Lord Mayor's Show."
"It's a legend," said the Marquis, dismissively.
"So was the Great Beast of London."
"And now it is again. Which is very convenient for us all."
"Would it actually kill you to once in a while let me know what was going on?" said Richard, pulling the old furs further up over his shoulders.
The Marquis made a sound of due consideration. "I suppose it might, yes."
Richard went back to sleep as much out of annoyance as anything else.
IV. King's Cross to Tyburn
There are many lost rivers flowing beneath the streets of London. Some have never been more than ill-defined marshy trickles, while some once were busy with boats and spiked with landing-jetties, far up from the deep waters of the Thames. Many can still be traced in the London streets and place names - Holborn, the stream in the hollow; Stamford, where the Great West Road clattered over the shallow stoney bed of a brook; Fleet Street, where the flow of people and traffic above echoes the flow of dark water below.
Of course, the names aren't always an accurate guide. A bourn may be a stream, but Cranbourn Street is named after the Viscounts Cranbourn, who once owned the land, not after a lost waterway. The contours are all wrong for any sort of river.
If one goes into a certain theatre on Cranbourn Street, past the gilt cherubs and slightly threadbare scarlet velvet and down into the lowest of the cellars and lifts a certain trap-door, one can see flowing water down in the depths. There aren't any sewers marked on any map of the place. But the tunnel and the water are real enough. No one really knows where it flows from or where it flows to, or who made it and trapped it down in the darkness.
The Marquis knows, but he wouldn't dream of telling.
"Shit - "
"Mind your footing," said the Marquis as the splashes died away. "It's slippery there."
"I hadn't noticed," said Richard, trying to ignore the water seeping through the knees of his jeans. He'd taken to wearing hiking boots these last few years - warm, waterproof, able to withstand a fair amount of broken glass and sharp flints to the soles. He'd traded them for a very fine tortoiseshell pelt, a well-balanced knife, and a long string of plastic beads from New Orleans. But they weren't quite equal to the patches of algae on the slick brickwork, or to keeping out the four-inches of fast-flowing water he'd stumbled into.
The Marquis wore tall black leather boots with inch thick soles and innumerable buckles. He could probably have strolled dry-shod across the Thames in them.
Richard had never seen a map of the underside which had included this stream. They had reached it by scrambling down towards the murky surface of the Fleet until they had found a small archway, hardly more than a couple of feet in height, the bottom of which was lapped by the freezing water. The Marquis had gone first, cutting off the light from the lamp - a stub of candle set snug in a holder made from the bottom of a pewter tankard and half a clean wine bottle, jammed together and wired closed.
It was very dark, and very quiet. The Sewer Folk seldom hunted in the swift waters of the river, but Richard wondered a little why the Boatmen weren't plying their trade along the waterway, poling against the current on flimsy coracles and gondolas and punts made from doors, with their veiled and cloaked passengers aboard.
"I don't remember seeing this path on any of the Earl's maps," said Richard.
"We're somewhere below Leicester Square, more or less?"
Up ahead, the Marquis' bent form was outlined in dim candlelight. "I suppose we must be."
"Where are we going?"
"Why didn't we go overground? Or - "
Richard concentrated for a moment, remembering maps that spun out like threads made by ink-footed spiders; maps that had curlicues of red and green and sapphire-blue, where the Circle Line was picked out in bright gold leaf, and the Jubilee in tarnished silver; maps that showed Hundreds, and Fiefdoms, and land owned by Bishops and Abbots and Dukes and Queens; maps of sewer pipes in intricate three dimensions, as though someone had demolished a house and left only the plumbing behind as a perfect skeleton of the building -
- but really, he remembered that the sun rose in the East End and set in the west at Wimbledon, and that was immutable no matter which cities he travelled to, and in much the same way -
"There's a door in the Empire in Leicester Square," he said. "Or in the overpass into Charing Cross. Or there's a maintenance tunnel leading off from the Northern Line just below Tottenham Court. Any of them could have got us to Bermondsey without having to splash about in three inches of sewer water."
"Then I must just enjoy persecuting you, mustn't I?"
They walked on for a while. Richard's neck began to cramp.
The candle-flame was engulfed in blackness.
Richard stopped and listened to whatever could be heard above his heartbeat, which wasn't much.
"De Carabas!" he said, the name feeling awkward in his mouth there in the darkness and the silence.
The thought crossed his mind that perhaps this had been the Marquis' intention all the time - to take him to this place in the cold and the dark, this place that didn't exist to the rest of London, and leave him to grope about until he went mad or died or worse.
Something touched his arm.
"Be quiet," the Marquis breathed. "Be quiet and we might live."
It didn't feel quite like Night's Bridge. The darkness was no more than the absence of light. And the nameless horror in the shadows -
"What is it?" Richard whispered.
"The Lord of Tyburn Manor."
There are many places in London, Above and Below, which seem to resent those who pass through them. There is something in or under or between the cracks of Soho which twists the streets around it, directing people around in circles, taking them along streets that lead to the wrong places, and a maze of buildings too closely herded in together to let the walker get their bearings. It's almost exactly like pouring iron filings in the space between two bar magnets to show the contour lines of magnetic force, and then dropping a lodestone in the middle to see what happens. There is something in Soho - under Soho, between the cracks - that warps space to its will.
Some have hypothesised that it is a dragon, brought as an egg from China centuries ago and lost in a hand of cards, now brooding over its hoard of gold deep beneath the streets. They may not be entirely wrong.
There are some places where this enmity seems to be submerged. Once, the docklands were full of disease, poverty, stinking mudflats, hunger. Now they gleam with steel and glass, and are thronged with shoppers and business people in carefully tailored suits. Yet the people there move just a fraction too fast. They arrive before the sun rises and leave after it sets; they sleep in their offices and only browse on food as they walk; on Thursdays they drink and smoke and flirt with a sort of relentless desperation. At night, when the streets are empty and barren and the sodium lights soak the night in orange, the wind blows hungry and dry through the canyon streets. It's a hungry place, and it consumes endlessly.
In some places, the old hatred seems to have been paved over and reconciled. Once, at Tyburn, there stood a triple gallows. Enterprising villagers used to set up stands, so the apprentices of London, given half-holidays to witness the exaction of justice, could cheer and jeer from a position of vantage. Now there's no sign of it but a discreet bronze plaque in the middle of a roundabout, and a convent of nuns who remember the Catholic saints and martyrs killed on the spot. Tyburn tree may cast its dark shadow in folksong and film, but it doesn't cast it in Tyburn.
This may not always be true.
Later, it wasn't the specific images that really stayed with him -
- Jessica, with that look of tentative hope which he'd seen on her face the last time he saw her -
- a girl whose hair he had pulled until she cried when he was six -
- Hunter's sharp smile showing between blood-flecked lips -
- a stained cloth wrapped tight about the Marquis' neck -
- a handful of quartz beads, their outlines pressing against his palm -
- as much as the feeling of being very far beneath the earth, somewhere people weren't supposed to tread, somewhere he was trespassing, each footstep an insult -
- and the touch of hemp about his neck.
Richard put his hand to the hilt of Hunter's dagger.
"I'm sorry, I think there's been a misunderstanding," he called out into the rushing blackness. "My name's Richard - Richard Mayhew. I'm a Freeman of London. You have to let me pass."
The words sounded stupid, even to him, but that hardly mattered.
He was standing in a low, brick-lined tunnel, with a few inches of cold water in the bottom. Above his head, he could feel the footsteps of a thousand people, and below was the pulse of the Underground. The candle was still burning in its makeshift lantern, still clutched in the Marquis' hand.
The Marquis was standing very still - the sort of stillness a cat has as it waits to pounce, a stillness of bunched muscles and preparation. His eyes were very wide open, the pupils dilated wide as if straining through absolute darkness. His lips were moving, swiftly and soundlessly.
"Could you let him go, please?" Richard asked, rather awkwardly. "I know he's not exactly what you'd call innocent under the meaning of the act, but - well, he's with me, anyway."
Which sounded like rather a pathetic argument to him, but the Marquis' eyes focused, and he jerked forward half a pace, before stopping dead again.
"It's okay," said Richard. "It'll let us pass."
The Marquis' eyes darted towards him, pale and glittering in the dim light.
Then he turned and walked away.
"No need to thank me!" Richard called after him, and then said to himself, "Arrogant bastard!" and trudged on downstream.
"So what was that?" he asked.
"The Tyburn Judge," said de Carabas, the words echoing back to Richard strangely.
"And what does he do?"
"What do you think a judge does?"
"I saw - " Richard frowned. The dark images were already dropping away from his mind gently as dead leaves. "A pile of dry bones, and a stone running with blood. What did you see?"
"But you - "
"I didn't see anything," said the Marquis with peculiar emphasis, and turned so suddenly that Richard almost bumped into him. "You were there. There was nothing to see. Nothing at all."
And God knew it was a question he'd never thought he would either want or need to ask the Marquis, but somehow it seemed inevitable. "Are you - okay?"
The Marquis looked at him for a long moment. "I have no wish to be in your debt," he said, in a voice that cracked as if he had been shouting, or pleading, or screaming.
Richard blinked. "Ah - that's okay. I don't keep an account book of good turns I've done people."
"You're a fool," said de Carabas.
Richard realised two things at that moment.
Firstly, that the Marquis was at least an inch shorter than him, something that he had never quite noticed before.
Second, that at some point and quite without his realising it - perhaps when he had smeared the Beast's blood on his eyes and tongue, perhaps when he had seen an angel falling into something as close to hell as he ever wanted to see, perhaps when the Earl had touched a dead woman's knife to his shoulders - he had become a little bit important.
The Marquis turned and splashed away into the darkness. The ceiling was getting higher, stretching away into shifting shadows out of the reach of the candle.
"Before there was ever a gallows at Tyburn, they called it Ossulstone," said the Marquis, voice floating out of the dimness. "Most people say that the stone was named for Oswald, or Oswulf, or someone else worthy and Anglo-Saxon. But there have always been legends of bones at the Ossulstone - bones of those who swore on the stone and broke their oaths, or were found guilty by the judge who sat there."
"Then - not wanting to state the blindingly obvious - "
"Oh, come now, why change the habit of a lifetime?"
"- but - why did you bring us this way?"
"Because it wasn't true."
Richard could feel the darkness behind them, cut off from the faint rays of the candle by their two bodies. "I beg to differ."
"I've used this route before, dozens of times. It wasn't true. There was no Judge, no stone, and no Jack Ketch waiting to throw a noose around the unwary traveller's neck. It simply wasn't true."
Richard didn't quite know what to say to that. He finally settled on, "Well, it is now."
There was a long quiet, broken by the splashing sound of their feet.
"I didn't know," said the Marquis.
VI. Tyburn to Bermondsey
When Richard had first returned to London Below, and had been in that embarrassing stage of wanting to find out as much as possible as quickly as possible, but not wanting to actually ask any questions, he had wondered whether the Effra he sometimes heard mentioned was one of the Seven Sisters.
It wasn't, of course.
The rivers of London have old names, tangled up in the knot of Latin and Norman interlopers in the streets around them - old English brooks and bourns, ditches and fords. The Effra - as Richard had been informed by a handsome middle-aged woman in patched and grubby tweed, with cracked pince-nez on a golden chain about her neck, who had grabbed his elbow at a market some years before and talked and talked with a desperate look in her eyes - the Effra was probably named from the Celtic 'yfrid', a torrent, even though there was nothing so very torrential about it now, caged and confined under the watchful gaze of the MI5 building and the gentility of the Oval. Another old name, old blood flowing beneath the bright steel and dull concrete skin of London.
Some names seem to promise more historical origins - the Effra joins up with the Earl's Sluice, the Earl's Sluice with the Neckinger. But Richard has learned to distrust obvious derivations. Sometimes places take their names from history; sometimes a place provides the history to suit a name. Or how were there Shepherds in Shepherd's Bush, or an Earl in his Court, or a Victoria so much older than the Station or the Embankment which had been built around two of her great council chambers? In the spaces below and above and between and through London, rivers became ditches became sewers became streets, and history flowed into fable.
"You know how there used to be such thick forests in England that a squirrel could travel from London to Portsmouth without ever touching the ground?"
"What a treasure-trove of useful information you are."
"No one ever told me that you could travel from one end of London to the other without ever getting your feet dry."
They had climbed through another narrow access tunnel, out through a heavy metal door which the Marquis had opened with a curiously-shaped key and which had a jagged lightning bold and 'DANGER. HIGH VOLTAGE' emblazoned on the other side, and into an Underground tunnel. By pressing themselves against the walls, there was just about space for the trains to flash past without injury, buffeting them with wind.
Richard could catch glimpses of the people inside - commuters avoiding each other's eyes, shoppers with uncomfortable mountains of bags. Once, a train had gone past with brightly coloured lights flashing inside and the pounding of bass loud enough to be heard even over the howl and shriek of the train. Richard wasn't able to see inside.
He could feel the Thames overhead, old and slow.
Just short of the lights of Vauxhall station, the Marquis had climbed up an access ladder, into a narrow tunnel lined with cables, and finally, after crawling upwards for what was surely a long enough distance to reach ground level and higher, into another water-dank tunnel.
Richard had stumbled into the water and soaked his trouser cuffs again. The Marquis had not.
His perceptions of time and distance had shifted again. He was footsore and faintly bad-tempered, but he wasn't hungry and wasn't thirsty. They must surely have travelled miles, but he didn't feel tired. He had no idea what time or even what day it was.
He remembered the first time he had come to London Below. He'd hardly been able to turn round without tripping over a rat-speaker or a sewer dweller, a velvet or a bravo, or a member of any of the innumerable feuding tribes of the city below. The Marquis was perhaps taking them by a rather eccentric route to - wherever he was going - but that didn't explain why every tunnel was empty and silent save for the noise of water and their own footsteps.
He hadn't asked recently where Door was, or what the journey was for, or why they were hiding down in the sewers.
"You must be exhausted," said the Marquis, in a voice that was about as far from solicitous as it was possible to be. "Let's stop and rest for a while."
Richard looked around. They had come to a wide open space at the confluence of several high sewer tunnels, with vaulting arches soaring above their heads and a wide pool of slightly foamy water at the feet. "Here?"
"Unless you've already set your heart on a more picturesque spot you've seen on the walk?"
There was a ledge of dry-ish stonework a few feet up from the tunnel floor. The Marquis pulled himself up onto it, booted feet hanging clear of the water. He smiled, invitingly.
Richard scrambled up to sit beside him.
The candle stub had burned out some time before, and by the last of its light the Marquis had carefully dismantled the lantern, stowed its various component parts into various hidden pockets, and produced a small battery-powered torch, which looked as though it had started life in the hilt of a toy light-sabre. He now balanced it head upwards on the ledge between them, casting a sharp circle of white on the ceiling and a diffuse reflected gleam on the dark water, and the tree-like pillars which rose up from it to support the roof, and down the tunnels that radiated away from them. There were flecks of quartz in the bricks which caught and held the light, faint as dying glow-worms, or as the stars above the London streetlights.
In a curious way, it was quite beautiful.
"Nice place," said Richard, for want of anything better.
"I believe it was once part of the cellar of the Abbey," said the Marquis.
"I didn't know there was an abbey here."
"There still is."
The Marquis held out a lump of salt-dusted bread to him, conjured up from somewhere about his person, and evidently borrowed from King's Cross. Richard took it, tore off a piece, and chewed meditatively. It tasted less like dust down here.
The figure appeared very suddenly. He gathered up the rusty black folds of his habit, trapped them securely between his knees, and hauled himself up onto the ledge next to Richard.
"Um," said Richard, intelligently.
"I hope you don't mind if I join you?" said the man, who had a face more composed of lines and chasms than of skin, something like a dark russet apple left in the sun, and wore a shabby flat-cap.
"Not at all," said Richard. Then he broke his bread in half, and held it out. "Um. If you'd like to eat with us, you'd be very welcome."
"What a well-brought-up young man you are," said the old man, with a beaming smile. Then he looked past Richard to de Carabas. "So this is your latest protégé, is it?"
The Marquis shifted.
The old man laughed, good-naturedly. "I've seen many worse in my time."
"I am not his protégé," Richard protested.
The man patted his knee. "Champion, if you would prefer? Paladin? Only a matter of semantics, it all comes to the same thing in the end."
"Are you from the Black Friars?" asked Richard, as the man pulled a simple bag out from under a fold of his cloak, rummaged around in it, and produced cheese, dried figs, and a small earthenware bottle.
"Great heavens, no," said the man, pleasantly. "Those Johnny-come-latelies with their keys and their ceremonies and their solemnity... No, that's not for me. I'm Abbot of the Abbey of Bermondsey."
Richard remembered what he knew of Bermondsey above - mainly roads, shops, and housing estates. Certainly no abbeys that he could recall.
"Pleased to meet you," he said.
The Marquis shifted again. "Reverend Father - "
"Do be quiet, de Carabas," said the Abbot, not unkindly. "You asked me to be here, and here I am. Beyond that, I'll do things my own way or not at all. Now run along and amuse yourself while I talk to this young gentleman."
And, much to Richard's astonishment, the Marquis dropped from the ledge, and walked further up the sewer tunnel to the edge of the circle of torchlight. He produced a small pocketbook and began to study it with a great impression of interest, as if he had intended all along to take the opportunity to catch up on his reading.
The Abbot handed Richard the bottle. "Here. Drink. For thy stomach's sake, and so forth."
Richard accepted it, sniffed, and drank a mouthful. It was something strong and spiced and warming. He passed the bottle back.
"Now," said the Abbot, looking into Richard's eyes with a gaze as unsettling in its brightness as the Abbot of Blackfriars' sightless eyes were in their blankness. "Perhaps you should tell me what you think you know."
There wasn't anything in the least sarcastic or confrontational in his voice, only honest, well-meaning enquiry. So Richard told him.
"I know there's something wrong," he said, even though he hadn't known it strongly enough to put into words until that moment.
"A good start," said the Abbot, gravely.
"I know that Door's in trouble," Richard went on. "I know there aren't as many people around as there should be. I know that if the Markets have stopped then there's something very badly the matter." He considered again, then said slowly, "I know the Marquis is using me for something."
"You have good instincts," said the Abbot, approvingly.
"No, just lots of practice," Richard muttered.
The Abbot munched on his bread and a lump of cheese, and something that looked like a shrivelled eyeball but at least smelled like a pickled onion.
"Can you feel it?" he asked, conversationally.
"Come now, you're not as much of an idiot as you look," said the Abbot. "You should be able to feel it a little, even down here near the river. You're a Warrior, after all. You should be able to tell when you're being hunted."
Richard allowed his attention to drift to that awkward, itching patch at the back of his mind. It was the part of his brain which would be able to walk him from Vladivostok to Trafalgar Square, straight and certain as a homing pigeon.
"Everything's - shifting," he said, struggling to find the right words for a feeling that was as subtly and utterly wrong as an erratic heartbeat. "Everything in London Below - "
"You have good instincts, but are still very stupid," said the Abbot, with a cheerfulness that was bordering on the sinister. "You think there is London Below and London Above, and only those wretched creatures halfway between the two can walk in both. You don't think about London Between, or London Before, or London Around and Beside. And all of them just part of the great City of London. If something happens in one, do you think it can possibly not happen in the others?"
The Marquis had found another ledge, down another of the tunnels which radiated out from the cavernous junction. He was sitting cross-legged, his profile just outlined by the reflected torch-light. He was playing the penny-whistle, a tripping tune with little melancholy flourishes that echoed through the grey stones.
"I don't understand," said Richard, who didn't.
"Well, it's hardly my job to explain things to you," said the Abbot, primly stowing away his food and bottle in his scrip.
"At least you could tell me what any of this has to do with me." Richard inclined his head towards the Marquis. "And him. What's he planning?"
The old man laughed entirely too merrily. "That's hardly for me to say. My Lord the Marquis de Carabas has always walked by himself."
"Are you certain you're not related to the Abbot at Blackfriars? Because we got enough of this cryptic stuff from him. If anyone had just thought to sit us down and say 'The Angel Islington is mad as a sack of cats, on no account are you to give him the key to all realities,' it would have saved us all a lot of trouble."
The Abbot smiled. "What a refreshingly direct young man. I approve your choice, Monsieur le Marquis."
"How delightfully generous of you," said the Marquis, breaking off from his playing. "Especially considering that none of us have much choice in the matter."
"His choice for what?" asked Richard.
The Abbot hopped off his perch, and patted Richard's knee encouragingly again. "Good luck, Great Warrior," he said. Then he turned to the Marquis. "God be with you in your quest. You'll need somewhere to stay tonight. The Tower Warden is still to be trusted."
"Hey, wait a moment - " said Richard, scrambling down from his seat. He grabbed the torch and shone it in the direction that the old man had shuffled away in, but the tunnel was empty as far as the torch-beam stretched.
"Well, I hope you feel duly edified now," said the Marquis, rather sourly.
"Not really," said Richard, and dug his mental heels in. "And I'm not going a step further until you tell me what exactly is going on here.
The Marquis looked around with bored disinterest. "Very well. I can think of more attractive places to stand until you keel over from exhaustion, thirst, hunger, or sewer-related disease, but I suppose the choice is yours."
"I can find my own way out," said Richard.
"And when you do, what will you do then, I wonder."
Richard pointed the torch beam at the Marquis' chest, so his face was uplit into a sardonic mask. "I think the question really is - what will you do?"
The Marquis' eyes narrowed, very slightly.
Then he turned away. "Not here," he said, digging his hands into his pockets and looking away into the darkness of the passages.
"Where then? Name the place."
"At Tower Bridge."
Another pause. "I swear."
VII. Bermondsey to Tower Bridge
There are many connoisseurs of architecture who feel that form should - more or less, give or take the odd flourish or extravagant window - follow function. A structure should glory in what it is and what it does, not try to hide it behind gaudy cladding.
Tower Bridge, perhaps the most absurd structure ever to have been thrown across a strategic river, sneers derisively at such hidebound thinking.
Many have wondered whether the tall gothic windows, with their neat diamond panes and their solemn stone mullions, more suited to an Oxford college than to a London bridge, give onto secret rooms - oak-panelled and decorated with portraits of Victoria, crackling open fires in the hearths, with great shaggy wolf-hounds flopping like Tudor hearthrugs in front. The Bridge should surely be the home of the shadow government, or the head of MI5, or a retired general, or, possibly, Allan Quatermain.
Richard knows none of these to be the case. He and Jessica had visited the bridge, at some point in his other life, possibly because she had felt that a museum of civil engineering would be a suitably masculine recompense for all the time they spent appreciating pre-Raphaelite paintings in a different art gallery every weekend. Richard had been disappointed to discover that the piers of Tower Bridge contain nothing more exciting than an exhibition centre, several function rooms, and a selection of gleaming Victorian pumps. Jessica had attempted to educate them both on a subject in which neither had any interest, the weather had been too drizzly and foggy to appreciate the view from the high walkways, and Richard had rather wished he had been left in blissful ignorance.
The high walkways, designed for the convenience of pedestrians when the main bridge was raised, proved unpopular with those pedestrians, who preferred rather to wait until the bridge was closed again than to trudge up the stairs; but they proved much more popular with prostitutes, who apparently found the seclusion attractive, the view enjoyable, and were presumably prepared to tolerate the drafts. This is the sort of detail the visitors' centre is less keen to publicise.
They had emerged from a half-derelict building on the southern approach to Tower Bridge, although Richard had the feeling they hadn't travelled upwards nearly enough to reach ground level. The feeling of wrongness scratching at the back of his mind became stronger the moment he stepped outside, something like the dark spots of a migraine floating in his vision, something like the prickling between your shoulderblades when you know that somewhere behind you is someone you don't entirely trust, and they may or may not be holding a crossbow.
It was night, still or again. There weren't many people around, but it seemed busy after the emptiness of the sewers.
The Marquis walked briskly across to the north tower, his head down, not looking upstream or down or at the lane of traffic beside them. He rapped smartly on the great glass door of the visitors' centre.
It was opened, after some minutes, by a young man with a small fair moustache, in a dark-coloured uniform. "I say, can't you read the sign?" he said, crossly. "We're closed."
"Not to us," said the Marquis, with a smile which could have meant anything at all. "Chiswick, isn't it?"
The young man peered at them, started, and stood a fraction straighter. "Oh. I see. What do you want, de Carabas?"
"Sanctuary," replied the Marquis, simply.
The young man hesitated. "There's nowhere really safe now, you know."
"I'm prepared to take that chance. I was told that the Warden could still be relied upon."
The young man called Chiswick snorted. "Stubborn old blighter. You'll see the Tower crumble sooner than he will." He looked dubiously at de Carabas, and then at Richard. Then he sighed. "I suppose you'd better come in."
He led them through the visitors' centre, up several flights of steps, through rooms of gleaming Victorian signalling equipment, and up more stairs. Richard glanced out of a window a few flights up, and saw the orange and white lines of London roads stretching out across the dark line of the river.
Eventually, just as Richard's knees were beginning to scream at him, he stopped outside a dark wooden door, which he tapped, respectfully.
"Enter!" called a sharp voice from inside.
"More wine, Chiswick," said the grey-haired, sharp-featured man who was industriously poking the fire. "I can't seem to get warm, no matter what I do with the blasted fire - "
"Sir," said the younger man. "There are two - "
"- and tell those two to sit down and stop making the place look untidy."
Chiswick grimaced, and directed the Marquis and Richard towards a pair of over-stuffed damasked armchairs.
Richard looked around as he sat. The room was precisely what he had hoped would be inside Tower Bridge. There was a portrait of Victoria over the fire. There was a great shaggy dog, its jowls lolling back from very white teeth. There were framed photographs of men in uniforms and flying helmets standing by biplanes, all looking rather like Chiswick with their tentative moustaches and their bryl-creamed hair.
It wasn't until then that Richard noticed that Chiswick's uniform wasn't quite that of a tour-guide in the Tower Bridge Experience, but had discreet military ribbons over the breast-pocket. The older man shuffled around in carpet slippers that were at least two sizes too large for him, and wore a brown corduroy dressing-gown of similar dimensions, but underneath it Richard could catch occasional glimpses of shabby gold brocade.
"De Carabas," said the Warden, sitting down. "And the Warrior, Richard Mayhew."
Richard tried not to feel absurdly pleased that someone had at last got his name right. The Warden looked at him intently, then nodded.
"First thing first," he said in a very business-like voice. "Would either of you like anything to drink? Scotch? Sherry? Whiskey and soda?"
"Um. Scotch would be great. Thanks," said Richard, trying to remember when had last had a real scotch.
"Capital. Chiswick - "
"On my way, sir," said the younger man.
"A bad business, this," said the Warden, in much the same way as Richard supposed he had described the Blitz, or the Great Fire, or the Norman Conquest. "I'm going to go on fighting until I drop, but the damn thing gets stronger every day."
"What does?" Richard asked.
"The Eye, of course," said the Warden. "Don't you know anything?"
"You know, it's remarkable that you should have picked up on that facet of his character so fast," said the Marquis.
"Believe me, it's not for want of asking," Richard replied.
"But haven't you felt it?"
"We've been travelling along the rivers," the Marquis said.
"Smart move, that."
"Excuse me, but I'd very much like to know what's going on."
"Later," said the Marquis.
"Now," said Richard.
There was a pause. The Marquis' eyes were flickering, flickering, everywhere but Richard's face.
"You can't expect soldiers to obey orders unless they know a bit about what they're fighting for," suggested the Warden.
The Marquis stood up. "Come on then. If you're coming."
"Blankets in the corner," said the Warden, gesturing vaguely in that direction. "It's blasted cold up there, even since they glazed it."
The high walkway which runs between the great towers of the bridge is criss-crossed with steel girders, which used to be the only thing between the walker and the drop, and through which the wind used to blow bitingly cold. Now there's a sheet of protective glass to keep out the worst of the chill. The view, however, is as stunning as ever.
Richard dropped the armful of scratchy military blankets, and folded his arms. "Well?"
The Marquis stood outlined against the lights of London below, and against the pale stars above, and between them by the orange ambient glow of street lamps, a permanent sunset through the London night.
"I've never had to invoke the right of sanctuary here before," he said. "It somehow doesn't feel very secure. Though I suppose the visibility is unrivalled."
"Look, it's pretty bloody obvious by now that you're not just running a few errands around town," said Richard. "It's also pretty bloody obvious that you're not dragging me around London as a favour to me."
"If you know that, then why on earth haven't you left?"
Richard considered. "Because I'm an idiot, in all probability. And because there's something wrong. If it's something wrong enough to throw off the great and powerful Marquis de Carabas, what chance do the rest of us poor sods stand?"
It was dark enough up here that he couldn't really make out the Marquis' expression, even when he turned round. De Carabas sat down, back against the glass wall, looking downstream towards the estuary and the sunrise.
Richard had noticed, soon after he had first met the Marquis, that the man never stopped moving. Pacing, hands and lace cuffs flying, eyes forever shifting from one object to the next, one thought to another. Now, for the first time, he noticed the opposite. When the Marquis was still, it was the stillness of a lump of granite in a hillside; of perfect equilibrium; of the end of time.
He sat down beside him.
"Islington was at the bottom of it," said the Marquis, in a voice Richard hadn't heard before. "We didn't understand what that meant until it had gone. Islington lay buried as London was built above it. When Islington - departed - the foundations crumbled. The city began to crumble too."
"When I went away - "
"Everything seemed fine. I know. It didn't happen all at once. Our dear companion and mutual friend, the Lady Door, was not the only one foolishly to believe it to be the dawn of a new age of hope and unity for the underside. By the time it began, you had already departed on your grand tour."
"Dislocation," said the Marquis. "That was how Door described it. She said that doors no longer wanted to open - that the old paths were changing. Things were coming to London - old things coming back, new things appearing."
"Like the Tyburn Judge," said Richard, slowly, feeling his way.
"Old justice, of blood and bone and vengeance. New outrages, against the people and the buildings and the city itself. People running scared, even though they couldn't have said why. Some of the greater powers - the Raven's Court, Olympia, Mary le Bourne, the Baron, some others, and of course the sole surviving representative of the House of Arch - made an alliance. But they called up something - shall we say, somewhat unexpected."
"An Eye," said the Marquis. Richard looked at his profile in the dimness, but the Marquis continued to look straight ahead, into the night. "An infallible guardian."
"That doesn't sound so bad," Richard tried. But that was a lie, because if he didn't know the Marquis as well as he did - which wasn't very, but it was well enough - then he'd have thought he sounded scared.
"Don't you know what an eye does?"
"It watches," the Marquis hissed, voice lowering as though he were afraid of being overheard. "There's no fighting in London Below any more. There are no alliances to be made or deals to be struck. There's just the Eye. Above or Below, it doesn't matter. It's only the old and forgotten places that are even the slightest bit safe."
"And what about Door? And all the others?"
The Marquis shrugged, eloquently. "I have no idea. They're - not here any more."
"And - pardon me for being self-centred, but - what about me?"
"Is it that you don't listen, or simply that you don't think?" the Marquis spat. "Everyone else has gone. The Earl, the Sisters - even the White City's fallen at last. There aren't any more favours to call in. And, to put it far more bluntly than is my usual wont, I find myself up shit creek without the proverbial paddle. To extend the metaphor far past the point of usefulness - if I can possibly make use of any piece of driftwood to punt myself along, I will do so. Do I make myself clear enough even for you?"
Richard suddenly found himself put in mind of a cat, walking sure-footed across the top of a fence, with packs of snarling dogs on either side. The cat appears to be smugly confident. Occasionally it may lie down, dangle a paw or a tail over the side for the dogs to jump and snap at, then yawn and continue on its way.
But if the fence were one day to vanish, it would become very obvious very quickly just where the power lay.
"You have the Freedom of the Underside," said de Carabas, voice struggling after his normal tone of bored cynicism and not reaching it, not by a long way. "You have the right to pass where I do not. You have the right to speak where I would be turned away. I needed to move freely around London - to contact the last few powers that are still free agents. You have enabled me to do that. I, in return, have told you what has happened to Door, and what has happened to London. You may consider our bargain concluded."
There was something horrifyingly desolate in the Marquis' voice.
"But - that can't be it," said Richard. "Isn't there anyone who could do something?"
"Door," said Richard, automatically, then added, "Or - I don't know, Olympia. The Countess. They've got power - "
"And would you really want to live in a London that was built on Olympia's power?" sneered the Marquis. "Or the Baron's, or the Countess', or even Door's? No one who could possibly want such a position should ever be allowed to occupy it." He broke off short, and then laughed. "It's all academic, in any case. The great powers are all - somewhat indisposed."
"Look, there must be something you can do," said Richard. "I don't know - put in a new foundation. Something."
"If there was, don't you think I would be doing it by now?" said the Marquis, savagely.
There was silence.
Richard pulled the pile of blankets towards them. The glass kept out the wind, but it was bitterly cold to the touch, and even here, in sanctuary, he could feel the prickle of wrongness between his shoulders. He put one blanket behind his back, and draped another over his knees.
Wordlessly, the Marquis pulled the trailing end over his own lap.
"It's upstream, isn't it?" Richard asked quietly. "The Eye, I mean. I can feel it there. Watching."
"It always does," the Marquis acknowledged.
"What ho, chaps," said Chiswick rather self-consciously as he entered the gallery. "Thought you might want something to keep the cold out." He put a bottle of scotch and two rather fine cut glasses down in front of them, and stood with his hands clasped behind his back, half an inch from standing to attention.
"The Old Man thinks you're going to be able to do something about all this," he said. "I wish to goodness you would. I don't know how long he can go on like this."
Richard glanced at the Marquis. The Marquis had picked up the scotch and taken a swallow straight from the bottle, and didn't seem to have any intention of answering.
"We'll, um - do our best," Richard replied, lamely.
Chiswick looked at him hard with his pale blue eyes, and nodded, apparently satisfied.
Richard was beginning to dislike that look.
"Why does everyone I meet have to give me their seal of approval?" Richard asked, when Chiswick had departed.
"How should I know?"
Richard shot the Marquis a long, sideways look, and took the bottle out of his hands to take a swig himself, wiping the lip of the bottle against his palm first by reflex and then feeling self-conscious about it.
"Because you're a Champion," said the Marquis, grudgingly. "Door's Champion really, but I suppose - " He broke off, and took the bottle back.
Richard processed that for a moment. "Your Champion?" he asked, and then snorted a laugh. "You must be joking."
"You're right. It was a joke. Congratulations on your acuity."
"This is going to keep me laughing until spring..."
"You have the look of a hero about you," the Marquis went on, passing the bottle back without being prompted. "A certain woolly-brained simplicity if you will. A self-sacrificing look. It tends to have an unreasonably positive effect on people."
"You always put such a happy slant on everything," said Richard. The scotch seemed to be a good one, inasmuch as he could summon up the memory of any scotches he had drunk in the past for comparison. It didn't scorch the throat on the way down as much as warm it, and it left a pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
"I don't think I'm much of a hero, you know," said Richard.
The Marquis huffed a laugh. "Between you and me, I'm not sure you are either."
"If it's any consolation, you're the very last person I would have chosen if I'd had any choice in the matter."
Richard took another mouthful of scotch. "It wasn't even a wolf on the Capitoline. It was just a big grey dog."
"I don't think most people could tell the difference."
"And I've never gone out and - I don't know, slain a dragon or anything."
"Heroes don't 'go out' and do anything," the Marquis replied, softly. "It's the villains who make the plans and set things in motion. Heroes are just there to react."
Richard considered that for a moment.
"London doesn't need an ever-watchful eye, or a guardian angel," said the Marquis. It seemed rather like he was talking to himself. "It needs a solid foundation, and to be allowed to get on with things for itself."
"Which, coincidentally, is the ideal situation for someone like you."
The Marquis flashed his bright, sharp smile. "Coincidentally."
The Marquis smelled mainly of leather and alcohol, at least as far as Richard could tell. The sense of smell was mercifully the first one to blunt when one spent much time in sewers. It was a pleasant sort of smell, oddly comforting. Richard reflected a little sadly that he probably smelled like a public toilet, but the Marquis didn't seem to be complaining about it.
He had the nagging feeling that he was missing something.
"Listen," he said. "I've had too much to drink on an empty stomach already, so I'll probably regret this in the morning. But I don't want to just - just leave everyone in the lurch here. Especially Door, and the Earl, and - everyone. And I don't think it's fair just to leave you. Not if there's anything useful I can do. So - I'll stay. I'll help if I can. If you need my particular brand of woolly-brained self-sacrificing stupidity, then you've got it."
The Marquis took the bottle from him again, put it to his lips, swallowed.
"Thank you," he said.
Which was strange, Richard thought, as he slipped into sleep. He sounded like he might almost have meant it.
VIII. Tower Bridge to Blackfriars
The London Wall had been thirty feet high, eight feet wide, encircled the entire city, and had indeed unarguably been The London Wall. It now consists of a few patches of rather sad masonry, and where it survives at all it is largely buried under anything up to fifteen feet of silt, soil, roads and buildings. It's very much a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair.
But that isn't to say that it doesn't still leave its marks. There's the broad curving road of Minories, the street called London Wall itself, and Bevis Marks, with Houndsditch running along in parallel - so named, people say, because of the dead dogs which were flung over the wall into the ditch beyond, in an impressively literal piece of nomenclature - like scars across the map of London, the gaps where the walls used to be. There are the areas of Moorgate, Aldersgate, Newgate, and the churches of St Giles-without-Cripplegate, St Botolph-without-Aldgate, St Botolph-without Bishopsgate - even though none of those places have a surviving gate, or a wall to set it in.
The Museum of London enthusiastically put up numbered plaques along the line of the old walls, to tell the myriad anticipated visitors all about it as they walked up from Tower Bridge. Unfortunately, they put the plaques up quite some years ago, and the demolition of buildings by property developers, planning contractors, and IRA bombers, has made the sequence of plaques rather hard to follow, and the Museum hasn't quite got round to replacing them.
This may, or may not, tell you something important about London.
Richard could feel it, the moment they left Tower Bridge, like a cold wind that blew through you rather than around you. He turned, automatically, to look upriver, but the Marquis touched his arm and shook his head, and they hurried on through the darkness.
"Where are we going?" Richard asked, quietly, as they walked up Tower Hill.
"Along the walls," de Carabas replied. "They're still holding, but the gates aren't as strong as they were."
They walked side by side now, which made Richard feel first proud, and then embarrassed. The streets of the City were almost deserted. Whatever relation this twilit London bore to the London - Londons - he was used to, even here it was obviously long after all the businessmen had gone home to their stock-broker Tudor mansions in Esher and Kingston upon Thames. He remembered that the City of London - the City in the proper sense, the square mile, a place of gleaming banks and Irish theme pubs - was one of the smallest cities in Britain, with a night-time population, at least in London Above, of perhaps ten thousand. During the day, it seethed with black cabs and businessmen.
This night, it was silent and empty.
"And where then?"
The Marquis sighed, testily. "If I knew precisely what I was doing, I almost certainly wouldn't be doing this."
Richard digested that for a moment. The Marquis always had an answer. Always had a plan. This degree of vulnerability was unsettling, and ever so slightly touching.
They walked the line of the walls, walked openly and above ground, even though Richard could feel the creeping horror of the lidless Eye, always watching, always searching. They walked along wide roads, glittering with glass, and they climbed to high walkways, pavements in the sky, until they were as high as the top of the old Roman Wall and higher.
The wind was blowing hard through them now. Richard pushed his hands deep into his pockets, but it didn't seem to help much.
They stopped and stood side by side on one of the high bastions, looking down on the land outside the city walls. There was a faint mist rising, and below that moonlight gleamed on stagnant water. Or at least Richard thought it was moonlight, all those whitish patches in the gloom, until he realised that there wasn't any moon to speak of. He leaned out over the wall, peering through the darkness.
Skulls. Hundreds of skulls, gleaming through the murky water.
"Some say the Walbrook was a sacred river and that the heads were put there as a ritual offering," said the Marquis, softly. "Others say that Boudicca's army, having executed seventy thousand or so denizens of the Roman city, threw their skulls over their own walls into the stream here."
"And what do you say?" asked Richard, not able to tear his eyes away.
He would never know.
Richard felt the shift in the air, a second before the Marquis stiffened, his eyes going wide and pale.
"It can see us - "
A whining buzz that was heard through the skin, not through the ears. A feeling like that at Tyburn, of a wrongness which bled out of the air, a sense of trespassing and transgression that made Richard's heart cramp.
The Marquis turned on Richard, and fixed him with his mad, shining eyes.
"There may be a way," he said, talking very quickly. The wind was rising, whipping his long black hair up about his face, while at their feet, the mess of dead leaves and crisp-packets was motionless. "I've done everything I can. Now you have to do the rest."
"What do you mean?" asked Richard, straining his voice over the noise.
"Be quiet and listen!" the Marquis commanded. "You must get to the Black Friars. There's still power there, if you can control it. You must get - to the Bridge - " There was sweat standing out on his forehead, and his lips were drawn tight and pale. Something was trying to stop his mouth. But the Marquis used words as others used knives. "Make them let you cross the Bridge. The - invisible bridge - "
Richard felt something hot and wet trickle from his ear. He knew it was blood. He could smell it.
"We have to go," he shouted. "Both of us - I don't know - " He caught hold of the Marquis' arm, and found it rigid as a statue's.
"You're a Freeman!" yelled de Carabas over the howl of the wind. "You can go where I can't. I've played every card I have for this chance, and now there's no more time - "
Something was coming, something bright as the heart of the sun, something purposeful and implacably certain. Something which saw them.
"I'm not just going to - "
"I can buy you time, but I'm not a miracle worker!" snarled the Marquis. "Run, damn you!"
He skidded down the nearest stairs, down to street level, where the shadow of the Wall gave him some protection. He ran, head down and stumbling, down St Martin's le Grand, twisting through the little streets around St Paul's, with its dome gleaming sickly green in the strange not-night. He could feel Blackfriars, just as he could feel the thing which stretched out from beyond it, casting the tall arc of its shadow over London.
He could feel the dark, cool line of the river, calling him on.
He couldn't be sure if the mist was really rising up from the Thames, or if it was a mist from some other time or place, or if it was just greyness around the edges of his vision. It seemed like the wind was whipping it into horrible shapes.
"Do you come here of your own free will?"
The wind was striking his ears loud as a blow, loud enough almost to drown out the words, and his eyes were streaming. The Black Friar who stood before the padlocked and bolted iron gate had his hood pulled well forward, and stood steady as a monument in the face of the blast.
"What?!" Richard shouted, more out of disbelief than anything else.
"Do you come here of your own free will?"
"I - " Richard swallowed down the hysterical response of 'I'm not such a bloody fool as to want to be here!', remembering that there were rules to these things. "I do."
"Do you come here in certain knowledge of the responsibility you claim?"
"Sure - yes, whatever!" Richard shouted. The wind was cutting him to the bone. He wondered how much time the Marquis would be able to buy. "I just - I have to get across the bridge. You don't understand how important - "
"There is still time to turn back."
"No," said Richard. "No, I don't think there is."
The dark hood turned, and Richard had the feeling that he was being subjected to another scrutinising stare. He didn't trouble to pull himself to his full height or puff out his chest. He was tired and sewer-soaked, hungry and footsore and grieving and very, very frightened.
"Domine, dirige eum," said the monk, and opened the gate.
It was stiff, and shrieked louder than the wind.
Richard crept through, staying by the wall, and up the stairs. At the top, he stopped.
And looked down.
Around the piers of the bridge, the brown-grey water of the Thames foamed and rushed. It had always seemed like such a placid river. Apart from the oily rainbow sheen, Richard had often thought that it didn't like such an awful place for bathing, all things considered, if you could put up with the Weil's Disease afterwards.
The water pounded against the rusty red columns, each of them made up of tonnes of wrought steel. He could see twenty feet straight down into the river.
He had expected - something. A shining silver pathway of a bridge perhaps, with the ghost of railway tracks snaking off into the distance.
Which was stupid, really. He knew Blackfriars rail bridge. He knew it was just a long row of huge pillars, standing like curiously orderly mushrooms stretched out across the Thames, with the connecting girders above removed, as though the bridge had been cut off at the knees.
There was nothing. Nothing to show that trying to walk across this bridge wasn't precisely as bloody stupid as it looked.
He'd read a story once, by Poe or someone equally melodramatic, about the imp of the perverse which sat on your shoulder and whispered to you to do something wrong simply for the sake of doing it. He'd read it, and thought: yes, that's it. That's the feeling precisely. The feeling of standing on a cliff-edge and not knowing whether he would just step off it. Not out of any desire to die, just - because. The feeling that made him stay well away from cliff-edges, and bridges, and tall ladders. Just in case.
The wind was howling through him and around him. He wondered if the Marquis was still alive.
Richard took a deep breath, raised his right foot -
- and -
- walked -
- across the invisible bridge, and into the invisible city of Greater London.
IX. The Invisible City
(It began quiet, a whisper of breeze and waves in the darkness:)
who is it that comes
Richard. Richard Mayhew. Dick -
how have you come
Of my own free will -
(More voices that were not quite voices, hundreds more, thousands:)
have you broken bread and shared salt
With the Steward, and the Abbot, and the Warden, the powers of old London -
(Millions of voices speaking at once:)
have you sailed the lost lines of our rivers
Splashing through the darkness of the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Effra and the Neckinger -
(They were the roar of traffic:)
have you walked the lost lines of our walls
Stumbling along Bevis Marks and Wormwood Street and London Wall -
have you passed through the arch
Through Archway and Euston and below Marble Arch -
(They were the chiming of bells in a hundred steeples:)
have you the voice of the citizenry
A hundred appraising looks, a hundred suspicious glares, a hundred grudging nods of acceptance -
have you the freedom of the city?
Richard answered: Yes.
And he remembered an important thing about the Marquis: no matter what poor cards he seemed to have in his hand, he always had an ace up his sleeve.
'London doesn't need an ever-watchful eye, or a guardian angel. It needs a solid foundation, and to be allowed to get on with things for itself.'
De Carabas, in front of him every step of the way.
'But no one who could possibly want such a position should ever be allowed to occupy it.'
De Carabas the traitor.
'It's the villains who make the plans and set things in motion. Heroes are just there to react.'
De Carabas the trickster.
'You have the Freedom of the Underside. You have the right to pass where I do not. You have the right to speak where I would be turned away.'
De Carabas the kingmaker.
'If it's any consolation, you're the very last person I would have chosen if I'd had any choice in the matter.'
And somewhere in the back of what remained of his mind as it started to become something else entirely, he remembered another rhyme of the London bells, calling a boy back from Highgate Hill.
Turn again, Whittington -
He may have been screaming.
- Lord Mayor of London.